It's 2007: Do You Know What Your Copyright Says?

December 30, 2006
By Robbin Steif

The newspapers are so good about reminding me when it’s time to change my clocks; I thought it was only fair to return the favor and do a copyright head’s up.

Web sites are always changing. If you aren’t always tweaking (or at least adding to) your site, it looks, well, old. It’s also possible that you change your site all the time, but never change your copyright. Either way, that 2004 copyright looks so 2004 as we start to approach the end of the decade.

What’s the real skinny on copyright law? We aren’t lawyers but we know some good ones, and here’s what they told us:

“In theory, the year corresponds to the date of creation of the material. Copyright law doesn’t have much to say about exactly how the date works. A range usually represents the idea that some material was created on X date, some on Y date, and some on dates in between. A single date is supposed to represent the idea that all of the material was created on that date.”

So, we interpret, if you haven’t changed your site since 2004, that 2004 copyright is just perfect — in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, it won’t do much for your conversion rate (don’t you wonder if sites with old copyrights are still in business?) The best compromise is to be sure to make some changes (and you’ve got a list of changes you’ve been meaning to get around to, right?) and then update your copyright. (No changes in the queue? How about running a link check and then fixing any broken links – presto! you’ve made changes.)

Lots of people have websites  where the copyright is part of a template – an “include”. The template gets included on every page, and if you change the copyright for one page, it changes for all of them. What do you do if you have some pages with no changes but others that need an updated date? If we were lawyers, we would argue that a copyright in an include file is a copyright for the whole site, and if part of the site had changes, the whole copyright gets updated. (But we aren’t lawyers.)

You’re sure to find a few pages that don’t have the copyright updated even when the include file gets changed, because that specific page never included the include file. Good candidates for that problem are thank you pages, shopping cart pages, landing pages that have no navigation, and .pdfs. You can decide each on a case by case basis, always keeping in mind that this is a golden opportunity to make those long-awaited changes and then have a wonderful reason to update your copyright.